Students add performance art in New Orleans to schoolday

Three Ascension Parish high school students have dedicated their afternoons and evenings this year to the theater.

Dutchtown High School students Nick Costello and Madison Levy, along with East Ascension High School student Elizabeth Olah, are commuting each weekday to New Orleans, where they are studying at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. The trio recently has been preparing for the opening of “Carnival!,” NOCCA’s spring musical.

Levy, a junior, and Costello, a senior, have known each other for years after meeting at Center Stage Performing Arts Academy in Gonzales, and they met Olah, a junior who moved to Ascension Parish from Alexandria so she could commute to NOCCA, at orientation in the fall.

The teenagers attend class at their high schools in the morning, grab some lunch, carpool to New Orleans and attend arts classes in the afternoon. Since landing roles in “Carnival!,” they stay after class to rehearse in preparation for next week’s shows.

Levy, 16, said her classes at NOCCA differ by the day. Some days she concentrates on music — jazz and theory. Other days, dance and acting classes fill her afternoon schedule.

“I want to be a professional performer and want to see what they can teach me,” Levy said. “It’s a great program. They teach us there at NOCCA how to prepare for college auditions, what to look for in the professional world and what it’s supposed to take. ... It’s really great because they’re giving us that professional atmosphere.”

“The great thing about NOCCA is you’re training every day,” Costello, 17, said. “Every day you’re in class training, so you get to see a lot of growth.”

Earlier in the school year, Levy said, the Ascension Parish trio would arrive home around 6 p.m. However, after musical rehearsals began, they weren’t leaving New Orleans until 6:30 p.m., and as the show has grown closer, the rehearsals have lasted longer and longer. Sometimes, Levy said, she doesn’t get home until 9 p.m. or later.

“It’s worth it,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard on the drive back, ... but it’s worth it.”

The three Ascension students are among 37 to land roles in the musical, which was originally produced on Broadway in 1961.

Levy said it was “definitely exciting” that all three of them landed roles in NOCCA’s big spring show. She said she has grown close to Costello, who she said was like a brother to her through the years, and with Olah this year because they all share the same passion for acting.

Perhaps the most important part of her exposure to NOCCA, Levy said, has been gaining additional information about potential colleges. She said she’s considering the College-Conservatory of Music as the University of Cincinnati, the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance, and Pace University in New York City, among others.

Costello, who is in his second year at NOCCA, said “Carnival!” will be his final show in high school. Afterward, he’ll focus on college, where he wants to study acting. Costello said he has been accepted to 10 colleges so far, but he’s still awaiting word from several of “the big ones,” including his top choice, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

The musical will be performed at 7 p.m. March 20-23, as well as an additional matinee performance at 2 p.m. March 23, at Lupin Hall, 2800 Chartres St., New Orleans. Tickets for each performance are $15 and are available online at http://www.nocca.com.